Syilx Okanagan Nation Territory, Westbank BC: The Okanagan Nation Alliance (ONA) is welcoming the provincial court’s March 27, 2017 Desautel decision.
The decision arose as a result of hunting charges laid by the Province against Rick Desautel in 2010. The court acquitted Desautel and held that the descendants of the Sinixt continue to exist and hold rights in the Arrow Lakes. The Sinixt had previously been declared extinct by the federal government back in the 1950’s.
Grand Chief Stewart Phillip, Chair of the ONA stated that, “This is a historic win for us; the court has confirmed what we have always known – that the Sinixt were the original inhabitants of the Arrow Lakes region long before the Europeans arrived. Descendants of the Sinixt are now part of the ONA in Canada and the Lakes Tribe in the U.S. It should be clear to the Province now that the Arrow Lakes region falls squarely within our territory and is subject to our Title and Rights.” Grand Chief Phillip further stated that, “four weeks of court time was taken up trying to figure out what the Indigenous history of the area is. We, the Syilx Okanagan people hold the history of the area but because of the rules of the courtroom, we could not be there to bring forward our information. We hold up our two elders, Richard Armstrong and Hazel Squakin, who were able to share some of their knowledge in support of Rick Desautel.”
Grand Chief Phillip further commented that, “Rick Desautel, a member of the Colville Confederated Tribes (CCT) in present-day Washington State, traces his ancestry to the Sinixt. As colonization advanced and especially with the imposition of a boundary between the US and Great Britain, our Sinixt people were forced to choose which side of the border to live in. Yet we are all related and we remain related to the present-day. The ONA and CCT will continue to be united through our cultural, familial, territorial, economic and political ties. Neither the Court’s decision nor an imaginary line at the 49th parallel can affect the relationships of our Sinixt people and the Title and Rights that belong to us.”
Grand Chief Phillip concluded by challenging the Province to properly engage in reconciliation. “Since the hunting charges were filed against Rick Desautel back in 2013, we have called on the Premier to join us on the only path to certainty in the Arrow Lakes area. We expect with this decision the Province will see the error of its courtroom ways and take up the invitation of our Chiefs to meet and put in place positive arrangements respectful of our Title and Rights. It’s time for face to face courage at the negotiation table rather than hiding behind closed doors in the courtroom.”
The Okanagan Nation Alliance represents its member communities and is mandated to protect, advance and defend its collective Title and Rights. The ONA member communities include thousands of members who are Sinixt descendants who historically lived in the Arrow Lakes area.
Grand Chief Stewart Phillip
Chairman, Okanagan Nation Alliance